As you may have heard, on Monday the Writers Guild of America went on strike, shutting down production of all film and television projects. While this will have far reaching effects on all entertainment, it could also impact comics in a few different ways.
First there’s the tragic losses – Pete Davidson’s return to SNL will be delayed until god knows when – but it’s also affecting comics folks who tarry in other fields.
Stopped work today on some dream (secret) Hollywood projects. Absolutely devastated, but in no way regretful. WGA is fighting to make it possible to tell incredible stories. I’m with the writers and the creators trying to make worlds out of words.
— Tom King (@TomKingTK) May 2, 2023
“Stopped work today on some dream (secret) Hollywood projects,” wrote Tom King. “Absolutely devastated, but in no way regretful. WGA is fighting to make it possible to tell incredible stories. I’m with the writers and the creators trying to make worlds out of words.”
The strike is expected to last at the very least through July (when actors and directors face their own contract negotiations), and it could have an impact on Comic-Con, as discussed at the USDCC Blog. While it’s all admittedly “What if” (the last strike didn’t last until summer, and Comic-Con was not a Hollywood showcase during the 1988 strike) at the very least, writers would not be allowed to promote their work at the fest, and producers might not feel that promotion is the best use of time if the strike is dragging on. But there are several other ticking time bombs:
The Directors Guild of America (DGA) is set to begin their own negotiations with the AMPTA on May 10, and their contract expires June 30. SAG-AFTRA, the Screen Actors Guild comprised of actors, begins their negotiations on June 7, and their contract also expires June 30. According to Deadline, there are currently talks that both organizations could theoretically strike in solidarity with the writers if an agreement is not reached before June 30.
Should either organization strike, their members would also be prevented from doing publicity on their projects — meaning there is a world in which no actors are allowed to promote their upcoming projects at San Diego Comic-Con.
And if you think you’re not into Hollywood stuff anyway, and you prefer the show floor, we have one question for you: Just where do you think the thousands of attendees normally in Hall H and Ballroom 20 are going to flock to instead? The answer is very likely the exhibit floor, making even exclusives lines longer and more difficult to obtain.
As we said, all just a guess, but the stakes in this strike are very high (see below) and no one is expecting a speedy resolution.
Another factor that has been brought up on twitter a few times: during the last strike, which ran from November 2007 to February 2008, screenwriters began to eye comics as a market for their work, and in at least one case, the regular writer of a book was removed in favor of a screenwriter type. There’s also this:
COMIC PEEPS: Be wary of Spec Scripts trying to be adapted into comics… https://t.co/Og8KL8hsZq
— Sean Von Gorman (of Comics) is at #C2E2 Booth W-9 (@VonGormanArt) May 3, 2023
Comics folks are supporting the strike, and this isn’t a turf war. And let’s face it, page rates in comics are so low, and opportunities that even pay page rates are down from 2007. Or as Jody Houser put it:
Picketed in 2007, will picket again. Last time because I dreamed of writing for the screen and joining the WGA, this time because I still want to write for the screen but have somehow been more financially stable in comics. https://t.co/4mWFl0woTO
— Jody Houser ✒️🗯️🎲 (@Jody_Houser) May 2, 2023
Still, if the strike drags on, there could be more crossover. Or it could even be happening already…
Already getting emails from screenwriters looking for artists to do their graphic novels….
— Victoria Ying HUNGRY GHOST Out Now! (@victoriaying) May 2, 2023
The replies and quote tweets on that one give the range of opinions, mostly “Not cool.”
Of course, this is a chance for another perennial topic to be raised yet again: why don’t comics creators have a union, they need one! We’ve discussed the problems with this several times, but the short version is that legally, freelancers/independent contractors can’t form a union any more. The WGA and DGA were grandfathered in. There has been some talk over the years of comics writers being able to join the Animation Guild, which is part of IATSE, but I don’t think it ever turned out to be feasible.
There’s another problem with that: animation writers AREN’T automatically covered by the WGA, and get paid much less than for live action, although apparently you can apply to have it covered. During the early pandemic, when animation production was going strong, there was a move to try to cover more animated projects, but that didn’t go far either.
Looking at the bigger picture, streamers, the main source of the current dispute, seem to have tons of shows stockpiled, so we probably won’t see unscripted “reality” shows clog the HDMI cables unless the strike goes on for a very, very long time. But the development pipeline of comics to screen, which had already slowed a lot, is now even alower, and as we’ve already learned, that can have a chilling effect on comics publishers.
So yeah, a lot is in play and this will be a very costly strike. The 2007-08 strike cost us the George Miller JLA movie, and I’m still bummed about that.
Nonetheless, the WGA is standing up for very important rights, rights that affect a lot of creative people, and it’s kind of shocking to look at this list of Hollywood strikes and see that writers comprise the majority of strike action. A DGA strike in 1987 lasted all of THREE HOURS. (There have been a few strikes by actors, including one in 1980, and a commercial actor strike in 2000.)
I’ll round this out with some links that explain the stakes and why this is important. Long ago Beat contributor Todd Alcott has a lot of great material on his FB page, but this is a good summary of previous issues:
When DVD came along, producers said “It’s an experimental format, we have no idea if we’ll make money off it.” For 20 years, DVD sales kept studios afloat and gave them a second chance to recoup losses. By the time 2008 rolled around, DVD sales were down and writers never earned a dime in residuals. At that point, blu-ray was the new format, and the producers said “it’s an experimental format, we have no idea if we’ll make money off it.” Blu-ray carried the market for the next fifteen years. Now the WGA contract is up again, and the producers are saying, no really, “streaming is an experimental format, we have no idea if we’ll make money off it.” Oddly enough, actors and directors and producers and showrunners all get residuals, just not writers. Why? Because writers are easiest to kick around. Screenwriters get abused every day in Hollywood, by pretty much everyone. The studio intern that brings in the bottled water to the pitch meeting has more power than the writer in the room.
Sometimes comics writer and co-creator of Leverage and The Librarians John Rogers has a great twitter feed that’s full of great links, and he kicked things off with this explainer:
1) Something (very stupid) you’re going to see over the next weeks are people arguing that screenwriters are being unreasonable. “Times have changed”. No. Times WERE changed. By SOMEBODY. By PEOPLE, making CHOICES.
— John Rogers (@jonrog1) May 2, 2023
And another great thread by Javier Grillo-Marxauch, writer on Lost, Dark Crystal and Marvel’s Annihilation, among other things (You can read the whole thread here.)
why is the #wga on strike? because the producers refuse to give writers a livable basic standard of job security, compensation, and career mobility: tv writing used to be a hard and difficult road to a very desirable destination…
— javier grillo-marxuach (@OKBJGM) May 2, 2023
Grillo-Marxauch bring ups something that a lot of people have: the ridiculous compensation paid to the heads of studios as shown in this much retweeted graphic. As he puts it:
think about it – they would rather shut down the entire business for an indefinite period of time, have their own workforce lose their livelihoods, and in many cases, life savings, careers, and homes than part with less than 3% of their profits.
let me say that a third time – 3% of the profits from a business that in a single year pays SIX of its employees more than 773,000,000!
But, in the intervening years, the profession has devolved. Streamers are ordering shorter seasons, and the residuals model that used to give network writers a reliable income is out the window. The ladder from junior writer to showrunner has become murkier, with some people repeating steps like repeating grades, and others being flung to the top without the requisite experience, in order to meet demand for new content. Studios are cutting writing budgets to the bone by hiring fewer people for shorter time periods, often without paying for lower-level writers to be on set during production, which makes it all but impossible to learn the skills necessary to run a show. On “Roar,” Flahive said, “we had to fight to budget for writers to prep and produce their episodes,” and some of her writers had never been to the set of shows they’d worked on, “which is astonishing to me.
Half the internet is just one second animations showcasing individual lines of scripted dialog that were so instantly powerful that they rewired our brains and changed the way we talk to each other permanently. pic.twitter.com/CsBwEd1YEE
— Daniel Kibblesmith 👻 (@kibblesmith) May 2, 2023
“the short version is that legally, freelancers/independent contractors can’t form a union any more.”
This is incorrect, even per the article you link to. If freelancers were to form a union, it would not be illegal. Rather, it would not be legally recognized as a protected body. This is the situation that every union found themselves in before the National Labor Relations Act. This law, passed in 1935, guarantees certain legal rights and protections to workers and penalties for employers that violate them. It does not, however, make it illegal to form a union. Unions were formed before 1935 in harsher conditions where they had no legal protections. The power they had didn’t come from the government, but their class solidarity. The impediment to freelance comic creators forming a union now isn’t anything legal, though a different legal situation might make organizing a union easier. The impediment is that they aren’t organized enough to act in solidarity with each other.
Chiming in about whether comic book artists could form a union. The first post is right: there’s no legal reason why comic book artists can’t organize. It’s true that only employees can form a union. There are rules about who qualifies as an employee: working on site, following a the employer’s schedule, following direct instruction are some of the reasons. One of the reason employers are so keen to label workers freelancers or gig workers is to keep those workers from unionizing. Also, usually employees can’t own the rights to their work the way a freelancer can. This is why writers are in guilds. WGAs East and West and the Authors’ Guild are collective bargaining organizations for independent contractors. The Authors’ Guild now accepts illustrators as well as writers. Joining an already existing bargaining body is the easiest (of course they have to accept you.) Many labor orgs are looking to organize more workers. They might want to add a new category and fold your kind of work in to their covered work or they may assist from the sidelines. If you’ve ever heard of Fight for Fifteen, they are non-union workers being organized by SIEU. I think this would be a great forum to have someone come speak about how labor organizing works. Just to help folks get educated on the topic.
Comics are mostly a buddy-hiring-buddy industry where nepotism and patronage determines who gets hired. Scribes with ties to the military-industrial complex s such as Tom King or don’t create enough value to have bargaining power. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to milk or deconstruct superheroes created by Jewish teenagers decades ago and attract a tiny audience. What bargaining power can a creator have if she only reboots, repackages, or reinvents something someone else created and was never properly compensated decades ago ?
At best, the unions are going to act as a barrier of entry, like requiring a college credential. The union may make union membership or a credential from union-approved college as perquisite for hiring , which would make hiring less inclusive and more about where you went to school and where you interned. It would formalize a lot of what has been happening in comics for decades, where the people who come from more modest economic backgrounds are being pushed out by those with means who will always be whiter and more affluent. Being lgbt doesn’t make you less whiter or less privledged.
Comments are closed.